Thirty-five years after the first visitors splashed down a water slide at Wild Rivers in Irvine, the countdown is on for the popular water park that closed in 2011 to open anew — and just in time for summer.
The park has set June 20 as opening day, but there are a host of to-dos that still remain on the punch list, including finishing construction of some attractions and obtaining various regulatory approvals for rides.
It’ll be tight, said Wild Rivers owner Mike Reidel, but the focus is on delivering the best experience possible for the long-awaited debut.
When will he know, for sure, the park’s projected opening day is a go?
“The evening of the 19th?” he teased.
“There’s a lot of things we can’t control,” Reidel said, clarifying that officials will probably know at least a couple of days in advance that the park is ready to open. “There’s a ton of stuff done every day, and there’s a ton of stuff still to do. It’s a big project.”
The park has finished hiring enough employees to run the attractions starting day one – about 600 people. Once more of the park is constructed, they’ll go through “scenario training” on the slides and attractions, Reidel said.
The $60 million water park occupies 20 acres of Irvine’s Great Park, a footprint 50% larger than its original location adjacent to the 405, according to the park’s website.
Visitors enjoyed summers cooling off at Wild Rivers for more than 25 years before the park closed to make way for housing.
It took a number of years to line everything up, but after negotiating a lease with the city of Irvine in 2020 and shoring up financing, construction of the water park broke ground last summer.
Wild Rivers will offer a number of new rides and slides, but also pay homage to some favorites from the original: replicas of the Bombay Blasters and Switzer Falls have been built.
But it’s the state-of-the-art features that will debut with the park that Reidel said he is most excited about.
“The stuff we’re bringing in is so cool it’s ridiculous,” he said.
That includes a water coaster with virtual reality capabilities, allowing riders wearing a headset to experience its twists and turns thinking they are in a snowy landscape, in space, or with a Polynesian theme.
Some of the new tech is aimed at convenience: With encoded wristbands, guests will be able to access the park and pay for things, “so they never need to go back to their lockers again,” Reidel said.
Families will have more opportunities than before to enjoy a ride together, with four of the slides designed to send six people splashing down at once. That’s on top of a number of tube rides and body slides.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Reidel said.
The park has already sold out of season passes, which went on sale on Nov. 1. Park officials were offering a limited number in order to keep lines short on any given day. The goal is to keep wait times to an average of 15 minutes, Reidel said.
Daily passes are expected to go on sale next week.
Excitement in the community leading up to the grand opening is a testament to “the goodwill that Wild Rivers built up,” Reidel said. After a “really long, bumpy road,” he said he’s proud “of what I was able to do to get this thing off the ground.”
“I’m so focused on the construction of it,” he said, “I don’t think I’ll really know what it feels like until we actually opened the doors.”
Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register.